Thinking about delaying your college plans? You’re not alone. According to Google Trends, searches for the term “gap year” experienced a huge uptick in March, around the time when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 an official pandemic.
With the fate of college classes still unclear, a growing number of high school graduates are now weighing the pros and cons of taking a gap year. So, what is a gap year and how do you know if it’s right for you? Allow us to explain.
What Is a Gap Year?
A gap year refers to a year-long break that some students decide to take after they graduate from high school. Many students use this break to travel, explore career options, find internship opportunities, and give back to their community, among other various personal development activities.
Gap years have long been common across Europe, but in the last decade, the idea of taking a year off has become an increasingly popular option in the United States.
Why You Might Want to Take a Gap Year
While gap years can be immensely valuable, they’re not right for everyone. Without proper planning, you may find yourself stuck in an unrewarding job or sitting around at home with nothing to do.
If you’re tempted to take a year off from academics, here are a few solid reasons why a gap year might make sense for you.
Develop a Meaningful Career Path
Not sure what you want to do with your life? Take a gap year! Seriously, it doesn’t make any sense to spend tens of thousands of dollars on college when you’re not completely sold on the idea, to begin with.
By taking a year off from academics, you can use your spare time to fully explore career options that will more likely lead to a meaningful career path.
Learn More About Yourself
In high school, you probably had a million things going on at once. You were studying for exams, taking standardized tests, applying for scholarships, researching colleges — the list goes on and on.
That probably didn’t leave you with much time to really think about the things that were important to you. What are your passions and skills? What are the things that hold meaning to you? Consider taking a year off to find out.
Developing your identity through hobbies, interests, and new experiences can help you discover who you really are.
Gain Relevant Work Experience
Some students worry that taking a gap year will negatively affect their job prospects when, in fact, the opposite is often true. Taking a year off from school can give you a major edge in the job market by giving you ample time to gain relevant work experience.
Employers generally don’t mind seeing a gap year on your resume, so long as you can show that you’ve been keeping busy with internships, externships, job shadowing experiences, and other forms of hands-on training.
Save Money for College
Um, spoiler alert: College is expensive! If you’re stressing about how you’re going to afford the cost of higher education, a gap year may be worth considering.
By deferring your enrollment, you can potentially save money by living at home (obviously, you should run this idea by your folks first) and working to save for your college education. If you can get a job in your future field of study, even better!
Get the “Real” College Experience
It’s no secret that COVID-19 is changing the traditional college experience. The next semester or two will likely come with a slew of modifications to campus life, including virtual learning experiences, sparse residence halls, and limited spectators for college sports. If you want to get the true college experience, you might want to wait and see what next year will bring.
Avoid Academic Burnout
Are you sick and tired of tests, homework, and studying? You’re far from alone in your academic exhaustion.
According to a report from the Gap Year Association, 81 percent of gap year students cited “wanting to take a break from academics” as their main motivation for taking a year off from school. Academic burnout is a real phenomenon and a completely valid reason for wanting to take a gap year.
In fact, studies have linked academic burnout to poor academic performance, which is one of the reasons why many colleges (including Harvard) encourage students to take a year off before they return to their studies.Bottom line? Do what’s best for you and your mental health.
Increase Your College Admission Chances
A particularly common myth about taking a gap year is that students will inevitably lose their momentum and therefore struggle to get into their dream school.
This is only true if you decide to waste your gap year by watching Netflix and doing little else. A gap year can actually increase your chances of admission by giving you the opportunity to do something cool and impactful, such as volunteering in your community or honing a skill that makes you stand out.
However, be aware that taking a gap year can affect scholarships and financial aid. Before you defer enrollment, you may want to talk with your college admissions counselor about the potential implications.
Travel the Country
While traveling abroad may be out of the question right now, traveling locally is still on the table. Compared to other countries, the United States is a huge place and has many different landscapes, cultures, attitudes, and traditions.
Exploring different areas of the U.S. can help you gain new perspectives that will serve you well in college, the workplace, and beyond.
Have a Plan
There’s no doubt about it — gap years can be extremely beneficial for some students. If you think that you could benefit from taking some time off, be sure to have a concrete plan in place for how you will spend your year.
By coming up with a plan, you can make the most of your gap year and return to your studies more mature, focused, and driven to succeed.